Box enters the office wars with Box Notes

Box has announced the beta release of a new co-editing solution, Box Notes, integrated with the Box file share-and-sync foundation. The design premises and goals are spelled out in the press release:

Box Notes has a number of unique features, including:

  • Real-Time Concurrent Editing: Collaborate in real-time on a Box Note with your network of collaborators.
  • Collaborator Presence/Note Heads: See who’s collaborating on a Box Note in real-time with a user profile picture that follows your cursor in the left hand side of the screen, letting your colleagues easily see where you’re working in the Box Note.
  • In-Line Toolbar and Annotations: Select text to leave edits or hyperlink to other content on Box.
  • Comments: Leave feedback within a note.
  • Share a Box Note: Easily generate a link to your Box Note for sharing with other collaborators.
  • Security: Box Notes is built on Box, providing sophisticated data encryption, advanced account settings and global controls for managing content access.

Box Notes will soon debut additional capabilities, including:

  • Mobile: Box Notes for mobile, including integrations with Box for iOS and Android.
  • Rich Media Embeds: The ability to easily drop in rich media such as videos, images and audio.
  • Version History: Instantly revert to a previous iteration of a Box Note.
  • Offline Editing: Update a Box Note and changes will be automatically synchronized the next time a user connects online.

I scooped a few screen shots from the video at the Box Notes website, and pulled out social features like annotations:

annotation

 

Notes also supports a document comment thread, which apparently also includes tasks, totally unmentioned in the press release:

comment or task

I will take a deeper look once I get access to the beta.

Box Notes bears a stong similarity to the recently announced Quip (see I want a social editor, but Quip isn’t there quite yet), which appears to be a case of convergent evolution, since the two products have both been in development for some time.

Remember that Box acquired Crocodoc in May (Box buys Crocodoc, says it will continue to license to competitors), so this is just another step in their office documents plans.

I’ve often wondered why Dropbox hasn’t implemented something like these co-editing apps, and maybe now it will do so, or acquire technology like Quip to do so.

So we are seeing the coming battle for the new generation of office apps. In a NY Times piece, Quentin Hardy interviewed  Sam Schillace, who led the Writely project which became the foundation for Google Docs, and later joined Box.

“This is for the third wave of office computing,” said Mr. Schillace, who is senior vice president of engineering at Box. “With mainframes you had very scarce resources, and things were managed from the top down. PCs made for strong individual contributions. With the cloud you have things being shared continuously. I want to build tools for continuous iteration.”

I think Schillace has the count wrong. It’s more like the 5th or sixth generation (doesn’t he remember Wang word processors?). But it’s clear that we are slipping into a new model of office document creation, co-editing, sharing, and sync. These will all be based on a file share-and-sync foundation, providing a lighter weight editing experience than the overblown Microsoft Word, but with more intuitive in-document annotations, and an activity stream/comment thread communication set-up.

Sooner or later Apple and Microsoft will get wise to this trend, although they are stuck in old user experience models that do not integrate cowork-style communication into documents as activity streams. Google is perhaps the leading competitor in this space, and Dropbox is a laggard.

Box Notes’ integration of tasks (which I have yet to see) starts to drift into the task management side of things, which will be a profitable interaction and is likely to lead toward mash-ups like my implementation of Bullet Journal’s task management technique with Quip, or more direct integration of Box Notes tasks with other task management tools, like Asana or Trello.

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Stowe Boyd

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